Yes, it’s been ten years and time to look back as well as to look ahead at Life Issues Institute’s impact on the pro-life movement. Back in 1991 some asked, “Why another organization?” Why? Because I was acutely aware of the changing tide of public opinion against unborn babies and that this needed decisive and specific action.
We had been making steady progress for twenty years through the efforts of tens of thousands of pro-life educators, and certainly with a major assist from ultrasound. We had slowly been educating the nation, beyond reasonable doubt, that human life, in its complete form, began at the first cell stage.
These basic facts had demolished the argument for abortion that had largely carried the day for them 20 years earlier. Further, their argument that it was only a religious issue was no longer effective, as the multiplication of religious churches and organizations had taken it out of a “Catholic issue” and spread it throughout the Christian world as well as among Orthodox Jews and observant Muslims. Further, we were able to explain that rather than only a religious issue, it is more basically a human rights or civil rights issue.
Then pro-abortion activists came up with a message that had the potential to be devastating to our side. What happened? They had changed the question. No longer was our nation arguing about killing babies. The focus, through their efforts, had shifted off the humanity of the unborn child to one of women’s rights. They developed the effective phrase of “Who Decides?”
They had convinced two-thirds of our nation that the right of a woman to choose was superior to the right of the unborn child to live. This was a serious problem in 1991 as I was leaving National Right to Life, and their new propaganda was definitely not being answered.
Pro-lifers were still teaching in the traditional method that had brought such astounding and continuing success until that time. They were still proving that this was a baby and telling how abortion killed the baby. However, increasingly, these facts fell on deaf ears, for this did not address the new argument of women’s rights. This had to be answered, but we did not know what the effective answer was. The only way to find out would be by extensive market research. That’s how they had come up with the idea of changing the question to “Who decides?” That was how we would discover how to countermand their new sales pitch. This would require extensive research, focus groups, polling and the testing of new ideas.
My good friend, Mr. Brad Mattes, with over 25 years of pro-life experience, left his current employ and moved his family from California to Cincinnati to help me start the Institute. But there were only two of us and our source of income was greatly limited.
However, the Lord had plans for us to proceed. Within a relatively short time we received a few substantial funding grants to get us off the ground. As a result, Life Issues Institute began a major project. We did the market research and came up with some surprising findings. We found out that while three-fourths or more of the people in the United States now admitted this was a child who was killed, two-thirds of the same people felt that it was all right to give the woman the right to kill. We found out that the basic problem in the minds of the general public was that, by their own evaluation, most were undecided on this issue. They felt that pro-life people were not compassionate to women and that we were only “fetus lovers” who abandoned the mother after the birth. They felt that we were violent, that we burned down clinics and shot abortionists. We were viewed as religious zealots who were not too well educated. Clearly, their image of us was one that had been fabricated and delivered to them in the print and broadcast media by a liberal press.
After considerable research, we found out that the answer to their “choice” argument was a relatively simple straightforward one. We had to convince the public that we were compassionate to women. Accordingly, we test marketed variations of this theme. Thus was born the slogan “Love Them Both,” and, in fact, the third edition of our Question and Answer book has been so titled, specifically for that reason.
From this information, Life Issues Institute became a launching pad, nationally and internationally, for a new dynamic in pro-life education. Pro-lifers needed to showcase just how compassionate the movement is to women. We emphasized that there are more pro-life pregnancy help centers than there are Right to Life chapters. We’ve stressed the fact that there are far more women involved in the pro-life movement than men. We underscored that three-fifths of the total effort of the pro-life movement is devoted to helping women with unexpected pregnancies. Where this type of information has assumed prominence, it has become quite clear that their argument of “pro-choice” has been blunted and replaced with definite, forward progress for the pro-life movement.
One major help has been the national discussion over killing babies during delivery (partial-birth abortion). This has taken the emphasis off a woman’s choice and, in the minds of the public, put it squarely back on the issue of killing babies. Even though we haven’t eliminated this type of abortion, nevertheless, the discussion surrounding it has resulted in an immense benefit to us by changing the focus of the debate.
As a result, Life Issues Institute has proven to be a crucial part of the pro-life movement. It continues to expand its influence, particularly through radio and publications. Perhaps, then, it is time to turn the pages back and to look at the early roots of this organization. Let’s look to see how it developed and what its outreach and impact are today.
My first love had always been education. Our twelve books testify to that. Our slide sets, videos and CDs, books and pamphlets have been translated into 28 languages and used worldwide. In 1983, I helped to found the International Right to Life Federation and was elected its president. I remain in that position, one that takes me out of this country, on average, about four times each year. This exciting, pleasant, but very demanding work has taken my dear Barbara and me to 68 different countries to date.
In 1984, I began a five-minute daily radio commentary under the name of Pro-Life Perspectives. That grew in popularity and was airing daily on approximately 300 stations by the time I left National Right to Life. Dr. Wanda Franz, who succeeded me as NRLC’s president, initiated her own commentaries under the original name. I continued my daily commentaries, renaming them Life Issues with Dr. Willke. My daily messages continue to air on approximately 300 stations. This January marks 17 years of pro-life radio broadcasting with over 6,000 programs aired. Handling the phone calls, e-mails and faxes that come in as feedback from the radio commentaries is a major job, but all are answered.
Five years ago I added a one-minute daily commentary called Life Jewels. We have published a new CD of these each year for five years. They are aired on approximately 800 stations domestically. Joyas de La Vida, the Spanish version, is aired on 400 more in North and South America. The total listener audience to these two programs is now estimated at approximately 3.75 million people weekly, making our radio programs a very effective educational tool.
One of our functions at Life Issues Institute has been the creation of printed educational material. Over the last few years this has grown to a series of ten brochures on subjects such as breast cancer, RU 486, euthanasia, choice, etc. We have created these in our office with my partner, Mr. Brad Mattes. Hayes Publishing Company has published and retailed them at very nominal prices to assist the grass roots pro-life movement.
From this office has come the third generation of the Willke Question and Answer books. The first was Handbook on Abortion, 1971-85; the second was Abortion-Questions and Answers, 1985-97. The third, Why Can’t We Love Them Both?, has assumed the same popularity as the other two. The three successive books have aggregated translation into 21 different languages. The first became commonly known as the bible of the pro-life movement, and its successors have inherited that label.
Lecturing is no small part of the function of Life Issues Institute. I average speaking in at least one city every week. My partner, Brad Mattes, continues to become more sought after, particularly in the field of post-abortion syndrome for men, which he has pioneered to a large extent. He has published nationally and internationally, and his overseas travels have included England, The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Switzerland and Russia.
We publish four newsletters out of this office: Life Issues Connector, the RU 486 Report, the International Right to Life Federation’s Newsletter and the Cincinnati Right to Life Newsletter. The last two publications are edited by yours truly.
Our quarterly Connector News-letter has progressively increased its circulation. From the beginning, we have adopted a policy of mailing it complimentary to over ten thousand pro-life lead people in the US and beyond. It has become “must” reading for a large percentage of them and is highly respected. The latest development is that I will now become publisher of an international pro-life medical newsletter, which will make its debut this spring.
And then there are meetings. There are meetings of leadership groups, some of which we sponsor, and meetings of groups of various religious, broadcasting, political, social, educational and medical organizations.
Correspondence, writing articles, media interviews, lecturing, consulting and writing continue apace. Brad and I are blessed with good health and we have no intention of slowing down.
A NEW HOME
Our office, during the first few months of Life Issues Institute’s existence, was only one room. Besides the two of us, we now have an expanded staff as well as many volunteers, and we desperately need more space. We are currently jammed into a rented space of 3,000 square feet. After considerable looking, we came to the conclusion that to move into additional rental space would be almost financially prohibitive.
Then a building literally fell into our lap. It is a two-story, solid brick building that will double our space to nearly 6,000 square feet. It will serve our needs for the foreseeable future after extensive remodeling. When moved in, I will finally have a recording studio, which will be quite a step upward, as I still record on my dining room table. Yes, this is truly a grass roots, pro-life movement! The new building is only two blocks from our present location, which is important to us because we have daily communication with Cincinnati Right to Life, a block away.
We will finally have ample room for our volunteers as well as office and storage space. An important item will be the inclusion of a small chapel. Brad and an artist volunteer are putting the finishing touches on plans for a backlit stained glass window of the Creator’s hands cradling a tiny fetal baby. Next to it will be a large cross, the centerpiece of this room. There will be ample sitting and kneeling space for about 15 people. It will accommodate our staff and volunteers and will be a vital part of our efforts for our staff.
We have bought the building and interior demolition is now completed. Final architect plans are due soon. Then come the bids on construction, remodeling and finally moving in. We hope to obtain sufficient funding to pay all costs so that, in the future, we can devote our entire income to continue teaching the teachers of the pro-life movement and to help educate this nation and many others. Please pray that all of this comes to fruition.